The road has not gotten any easier for the Elizabethtown Area High School boys basketball team. The Bears have opened the season with five straight games on the road. Four of the five teams they’ve faced in the first six games are 6A schools in District 3 as well. For them to be competing in each game is most certainly an accomplishment.
Still, Elizabethtown has found itself in a strange position thus far following a narrow 63-62 victory at Penn Manor on Wednesday, Dec. 19, and a close 70-67 defeat to McCaskey in the home opener at Daubert Gym on Friday, Dec. 21. Those results put the Bears’ record at 3-4, 2-2 in crossover games against Section One of the Lancaster- Lebanon League.
“There are no moral victories, but we have no reason to hang our heads,” head coach Rocky Parise said. “I am proud of the way our guys kept fighting. We haven’t been in this position. These guys have been wanting and working for this for the last three years, and we’re not satisfied. We want to keep going.”
The contest against Penn Manor was a daunting one. The Comets entered the game unbeaten at 4-0, and their student section was lively throughout the night. The first quarter moved quickly, going back and forth before Elizabethtown was able to go up 15-11 at the end of the period, the difference being two steals that led to baskets from senior Amos Kollie.
The Bears grabbed what would be the biggest lead of the game midway through the second following a 3-pointer from junior Brody Beach off a pass from fellow junior Ryan Parise, one of 6 assists for him in the first two quarters. Penn Manor closed the half on a 10-3 run, however, tightening the score to 33-31.
A 3-pointer briefly gave the Comets the lead early in the third, but Elizabethtown responded well, regaining control thanks to some and-ones from Ryan Parise before another Penn Manor 3 just before the buzzer put the game back at 49-47.
The Bears finally lost the lead for the first time since early in the first with just under two minutes to go after a Comets jumper, briefly getting it back thanks to a pair of free throws from senior Larry Locker and losing it again a couple of possessions later to go down 61-60 with 36.1 seconds left.
That’s when Kollie struck. Driving baseline, he went up for layup, got fouled and converted the basket anyway for an and-one, hitting the free throw to give his team a 63-61 lead with 19.1 seconds to go.
“I think we were trying to go high-low into Larry, which we started getting some pretty good looks at toward the second half, but then it just kind of broke down,” Coach Parise said. “But (Amos) was a senior; he stepped up and made a good play. (He’s) grown up and matured so much, and tonight, he stuck his shoulders back, kept his head up and went out and won the game for us.”
Comets senior Jakob Matias was then fouled going to the hoop, giving him a chance to tie the game with two fouls shots of his own. He made the first — then rimmed out on the second, with Kollie diving on the ball for a rebound and holding it until the clock hit zeroes for a dramatic Bears win.
“I wanted to foul up two the whole time,” Coach Parise said. “I didn’t want to let them run a set, and I didn’t do it, but we ended up fouling, and it paid off. I’m glad it worked out that way, because I would’ve kicked myself if we wouldn’t have made them win it from the foul line.”
Kollie and Ryan Parise shared the team lead in the points at 13. The former had 6 rebounds, while the latter also had 6 assists. Locker chipped in well with 12 points and 9 rebounds, while Beach, senior Dylan Sweger and sophomore Luke Pierson each hit two 3-pointers.
Penn Manor kept itself alive thanks to the 3-ball, hitting 8 as a team. Despite his missed free throw to seal his team’s fate, Matias matched the game-high in points with 13. Senior Kevin Roldan and junior Ethan Hine had 12 and 10 points, respectively.
“Any time you can get a road win against a Section One crossover is good,” Coach Parise said. “It’s extra special because they were coming in undefeated, (so) we knew the importance of the game. We knew the effort would be there, but it was just focus and trying to execute what we wanted to do. In the end, we just made one more play than they did. It was just a great high school basketball game, and I’m glad we came out on top.”
Two days later, the Bears had a raucous home crowd of their own in Daubert Gym against McCaskey. The Red Tornado opened the game with 17 points in the first four minutes, taking a 19-13 lead into the second, going up double- digits at one point. Elizabethtown responded with a 9-0 run late in the half before a buzzer-beater from senior Ajani Simmons boosted the McCaskey lead to 30-25 at the break.
The Bears increased the pressure in the second half, but the Red Tornado answered them at every turn, holding a 49-42 advantage at the end of the third. Late in the game, with just over two minutes left, Locker appeared to turn the tide in Elizabethtown’s favor, dunking from just inside the foul line off a steal to cut the lead to 61-57 and send the student section into a frenzy.
But McCaskey did not waver; junior Isaiah Thomas made a layup to put his team up six after Locker’s slam and another to go up five after a Kollie 3-pointer. Locker hit two free throws to narrow the gap to four, followed by a foul shot from Red Tornado junior Makai Ortiz-Grey to put the score at 68-64. Ortiz-Grey converted two more free throws after Ryan Parise nailed a 3-ball with a second left to ice the game for McCaskey.
It was a balanced attack on offense for the Red Tornado. Thomas came off the bench to share the team lead in points with Simmons at 16. Senior Bryan McKenzie had 13 points as well, while Ortiz-Grey finished with 10. For the Bears, Locker led all players with 25 points, while junior Elijah Eberly and Kollie had 14 and 12, respectively.
Elizabethtown will host a two-day event, the Allen Restoration Holiday Shootout, in Daubert Gym on Thursday, Dec. 27, and Friday, Dec. 28, with three games on each day amongst the Bears and five other teams (Central Dauphin, Kutztown, Lampeter-Strasburg, Middletown and Northern York). They will play Kutztown on Thursday night and an undefeated Central Dauphin team on Friday night.